Rob Barber: "Brands can't be blamed for not sponsoring bodyboard competitions"

February 15, 2021 | Bodyboarding
Rob Barber: a drop-knee barrel somewhere in Nicaragua | Photo: Barber Archive

Rob Barber is one of the most experienced voices in the bodyboarding industry.

The British bodyboarder and businessman believes that professional bodyboarding is going through a rough yet temporary phase.

Barber, who runs Bodyboard School and Bodyboard Holidays, also notes that bodyboard companies will only support global events if there's a reasonable return.

When it comes to designing a sustainable World Tour format, he supports the idea that if a one-off competition is the only option available to crown world champions, then that's the way to go.

In an exclusive interview with SurferToday.com, Rob Barber challenges the International Surfing Association (ISA) to do more for the sport of bodyboarding.

Bodyboarding: Rob Barber finds a dream barrel in Nicaragua | Photo: Barber Archive

Competitive bodyboarding is living its worst period in decades. Why have we reached this point?

There are a few different reasons.

If we're talking internationally, we're in the middle of a global pandemic - no one can travel, no one can organize competitions.

I think the fact they managed to run the 2020 Frontón King was epic. It was brilliant to get something to watch and see the guys perform - well done to them.

There's also been a sort of confusion between the governing bodies - there's a shift going on there.

There will always be a time when there will be a gap to fill with both organizations trying to work out how they'll be working together.

Also, there's this whole scenario with how to fund it. Is it viewers from the webcast that sponsors are going to buy in to?

If so, the webcast has got to be absolutely spot on, and then the viewers will keep on coming and watching.

And who's going to organize that?

Who's the person who is going to put the cash on the line to invest in the events, and try to improve this fantastic webcast and well-delivered competition, and manage that over a certain period?

It's a bit of a gamble.

I think these things flow between good and not-so-good periods, but I don't think it's that much to worry about.

It is one of those times when bodyboard competitions are a bit slow. They will come back, and somebody will pick it up.

For instance, on a local basis, the Cornish Bodyboard Series is definitely good to go. They're just waiting for government guidelines to make it happen again.

The fact that we now have bodyboarders that have been there and seen it and done it in the comp scene and running events means that we've got much higher chances of getting events held when waves are pretty decent.

Whereas previously there were no bodyboarding forefathers if you like.

It was all being run by individuals who didn't necessarily have that real rich knowledge of bodyboarding.

Now, we're at a stage that is not hard to put on a bodyboard comp on when waves are good.

We all know that at this break, at this time, at low or high tide, it's going to be good.

Bodyboarding: brands will support the sport as long as long as they get some return on the investment | Photo: Barber Archive

Riders often blame board manufacturers for not putting money into the sport. Do you think bodyboard brands have done enough to support professional bodyboarding?

On a UK basis, it's not too bad. Whenever there's a comp, brands put in prizes, I put in prizes, and they're pretty generous about it. They know that's important.

It's great to win some cash when you win a comp.

But I don't think it's necessarily important to get big prize purses. I don't think that's a drive to make competitors happy.

I think in the UK, we're all happy to catch up with the boys and catch some waves and see who comes out on top.

Internationally, again, it all comes down to businesses being savvy with their marketing spend.

If you can spend $1,000 on Facebook or YouTube and get recognized, with more visitors getting to your website and more sales as a result of it, then that's probably how you're going to spend your marketing budget.

If you think that spending a marketing budget on sponsoring competitions is going to be a good way to increase your sales, that's a great way to go as well.

I just don't know if you can expect brands to pay for sponsor competitions for the love of sponsoring competitions.

It comes down to the decision of the marketing campaign and PR and the direction of the brand.

Essentially, the best chances of running bodyboard competitions are getting decent sponsorships from getting viewers to the webcasts, which will attract companies to sell things in and around bodyboarding.

It might be an energy drink, a clothing brand linked to the surf industry, or a watch and sunglasses brand that just has that budget and wants to increase the number of people that visit their website.

The best route to sponsorship is through the support of a regional tourist board to promote a specific destination, as we see with the Chile event.

Rob Barber: the British bodyboarder is an active promoter of the sport in the UK | Photo: Barber Archive

Do you think the newly-created IBC World Tour will be able to run an improved version of the APB World Tour?

The fact that they've developed their own organization - and I'm fairly sure it is run by Danny Hernandez - and the fact that they've got the impetus to try to drive things forward, they should be able to do a pretty decent job.

At the end of the day, it's not an easy task, but it is achievable. It's somebody's job to pull together logistics, marketing, and the riders.

If it's their mission, they should be able to pull it off because lots of other organizations have done similar things previously.

It just depends on the drive of the individuals involved and whether they are getting paid for their time to do it.

The event industry can be a big gamble.

Often there is money on the line by the event organizer and promoter, and if it isn't a success, they can stand to lose a lot.

But if it is a success, then the wins are big for everyone.

The locations are there.

There's a World Tour with recognized locations, and at each location, there are generally individuals that are happy to be the competition director or the head of logistics in that region.

There seems to be quite a reasonable number of competitions supported by their local council or government like in Chile and Peru.

It would be great if there could be harmony with all the individuals involved because I think there might be a bit of friction between those two organizations [IBA and APB] at the moment and that generally won't benefit anyone. I don't know enough of the background to comment on that.

So, let's hope - new things aren't necessarily bad things. It's a matter of keeping things moving forward.

If somebody has got the drive to put together a new organization, they should have the drive to be successful at it.

Do you think that crowning a world champion in a single event is a viable option?

If that's the way it needs to be to make it happen, then that isn't a bad thing.

If we look at the World Surf League (WSL), they changed their plan so that it all comes down to one event at the end that will decide the world champions.

I know I'll tune in to that, I'll be watching it, and everybody will be talking about it. It will be down to the top 5, and it will be really nail-biting and amazing.

So, on that front, why not? If that's massively going to increase the view figures, that's brilliant.

If it's going to create an event that everybody wants to be part of and everyone wants a chance of becoming a world champion, then that's fine.

It used to be like that, for example, with the Pipe comp back in the day.

It's one way of doing it.

If it's viable to do it that way in the post-pandemic times when probably industries will be struggling, then maybe that's not such a bad thing.

We could have three comps deciding the world champions over three weeks or a month. It doesn't have to be a mega tour all around the world.

It's not budget-breaking for the South Africans, the Hawaiians, the North Americans, the Australians, or the Europeans to all go to that three comps, and in the end, there's a winner.

There's also the argument that says that the winner of the World Tour is the person that can get the budget to go to all the comps around the world, the person that has logistics and is able to be at those comps stands a good chance of winning.

Who's the best bodyboarder in the world? The one who is able to get that stuff organized and ride in all comps or the winner of a three-event series?

It's something that we could debate all day; it's interesting to look at the different ways to do it.

Building participation is really important in international events, though.

Mentawai: a superb bodyboarding destination | Photo: Barber Archive

From a governing perspective, the International Surfing Association (ISA) officially rules the sport. Do you think the ISA should make an effort to save bodyboarding?

That's open to debate. The ISA does surfing and paddleboarding, so that could definitely help.

They are an organization with a big membership, and I imagine they have not many people coming from a bodyboarding background.

But if they offer something to bodyboarders, then that could be a way to bring bodyboarders together and do competitions and coaching events.

So, yes, they could grab the bull by the horns a lot more and perhaps work with the IBC to make it happen.

In your opinion, why has the ISA suspended the World Bodyboard Championship (WBC)?

I am fairly sure that this comes down to financials again.

At the end of the day, the ISA gets sponsors for running the World Surfing Games.

So, perhaps they couldn't get sponsors for the World Bodyboard Championship, and that's why it hasn't happened.

I think they're in a situation where they've got no one in the organization driving bodyboarding forward at the moment.

If they did have somebody investigating and trying to reach out to sponsors and put an event together, they could make it happen, which would be epic.

  • They have won world titles and inspired generations of wave riders with their timeless skills and style. Discover the greatest bodyboarders in the history of the sport.
  • Rob Barber is one of the most influential bodyboarding people on the planet and one of the few who is continuously bringing new participants into the sport.
  • "In the year 2021, a new virus is discovered. By the time control measures are implemented, it is already too late."
  • Airboarding is a winter sport that blends snowboarding and bodyboarding elements and allows you to ride down the mountain just inches above the snow.

SurferToday.com uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more on our About section.